Lead and you. Working safely with lead. When are you most at risk? How does lead get into your body?

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1 Working safely with lead Working with lead can affect your health. This leaflet tells you about: health problems that can occur if you absorb too much lead; what your employer should do to protect your health; precautions you should take. When are you most at risk? This is a web-friendly version of leaflet INDG305(rev2) When the work you are doing produces lead dust, fume or vapour you are most at risk. This can include: blast removal and burning of old lead paint; stripping of old lead paint from doors, windows etc; hot cutting in demolition and dismantling operations; scrap-processing activities, including recovering lead from scrap and waste; lead-acid battery manufacture, breaking and recycling; some painting of buildings; some spray-painting of vehicles; working with metallic lead and alloys containing lead, eg soldering; lead smelting, refining, alloying and casting; manufacturing and physically processing (eg bagging) lead compounds; manufacturing leaded glass; manufacturing and using pigments, colours and ceramic glazes; recycling of any materials containing lead (eg cables, TVs or computer monitors containing cathode ray tubes (CRT)). How does lead get into your body? When lead and items containing lead are processed, worked, or recovered from scrap or waste they can create lead dust, fume or vapour. Your body absorbs lead when you: breathe in lead dust, fume or vapour; swallow any lead, eg if you eat, drink, smoke, or bite your nails without washing your hands and face. Lead is not absorbed through the skin except in the form of lead alkyls (an additive to petrol) and lead naphthenate which are not covered in this leaflet. Any lead you absorb at work will circulate in your blood. Your body gets rid of a small amount of lead each time you go to the toilet, but some will stay in your body, stored mainly in your bones. It can stay there for many years without making you ill. 1 of 6 pages

2 How does lead affect your health? If the level of lead in your body gets too high, it can cause: headaches; tiredness; irritability; constipation; nausea; stomach pains; anaemia; loss of weight. Continued uncontrolled exposure could cause more serious symptoms such as: kidney damage; nerve and brain damage; infertility. These symptoms can also have causes other than lead exposure so they do not necessarily mean that you have lead poisoning. An unborn child is at particular risk from exposure to lead, especially in the early weeks before a pregnancy becomes known. If you are a woman of child-bearing age, you should make sure you follow good work practices and a high standard of personal hygiene. What must your employer do to protect your health at work? If you could be exposed to lead, lead compounds, dust, fume or vapour at work your employer must: assess the risk to your health to decide whether or not your exposure is significant (the law defines this), and what precautions are needed to protect your health; put in place systems of work and other controls, such as fume and dust extraction, to prevent or control your exposure to lead, and keep equipment in efficient working order; provide washing and changing facilities, and places free from lead contamination where you can eat and drink; tell you about the health risks from working with lead and the precautions you should take; train you to use any control measures and protective equipment correctly. 2 of 6 pages

3 Your employer should tell you if your exposure to lead is significant. If it is, your employer will also have to: provide you with protective clothing; make arrangements for laundering contaminated clothing; measure the level of lead in the air you are exposed to, and tell you the results. If your exposure to lead cannot be kept below a certain level known as the occupational exposure limit your employer must also issue you with respiratory protective equipment; arrange to measure the level of lead in your body. This is done by a doctor at your place of work. You must be told the results of your tests. How is your health checked at work? At your place of work, an appointed doctor or a nurse (under the supervision of a doctor) will take a small blood sample to measure the amount of lead it contains. This is measured as a number in micrograms of lead for each decilitre (or 100 millilitres) of blood. You are legally obliged to provide blood or urine samples for this purpose. Blood-lead levels are usually checked every three months, especially if you are under 18 or a woman of child-bearing age. It may be more often if you do the sort of work where you could rapidly absorb lead (eg work on lead-burning processes where exposure to lead fume could be high unless properly controlled). The doctor may check your blood-lead level less often if your exposure and your blood-lead level do not usually change very much. This could be every 6 or even 12 months. What happens if your blood-lead level is too high? If the amount of lead in your blood reaches the action level, your employer must investigate why this has happened and try to reduce it to below that level by: reviewing the control measures and checking that they are working properly; making sure that proper hygiene procedures are followed; consulting relevant heath professionals such as a doctor or occupational hygienist about any additional protective measures. If, despite all the control measures, your blood-lead level reaches the suspension level, the doctor will repeat the test. (Lower action and suspension levels apply for some employees see the table on page 4.) If this confirms the result of the first test, the doctor will usually decide that you should not carry on working with lead. There are some exceptions to this rule which the doctor will explain. Your employer must act on the doctor s decision, and you will not be able to work with lead again, or be exposed to it, until the doctor considers it safe for you to do so. 3 of 6 pages

4 If your employer cannot offer you suitable alternative work, where you will not be exposed to lead, you may be suspended from work. If this happens, you have the right to be paid by your employer for up to 26 weeks. If your employer refuses, ask for advice from a supervisor or safety or trade union representative. You can apply to an Employment Tribunal to enforce your entitlement to suspension pay. What are the levels for different employees? This table shows the current action and suspension levels. There are lower action and suspension levels for women of child-bearing age and for young people under 18 as follows: Category Action level Suspension level (a) General employees 50 µg/dl 60 µg/dl (b) Women of child-bearing age 25 µg/dl 30 µg/dl (c) Young people under 18 (other than at (a)) 40 µg/dl 50 µg/dl If a woman is pregnant, the lead in her blood can pass into the blood of the baby she is carrying which could affect its development. If you are pregnant, it is important to keep the amount of lead in your blood as low as possible. If you become pregnant, the doctor will automatically certify that you should not do work where your exposure to lead is significant. In the interests of your baby you should tell your employer as soon as your pregnancy is confirmed. The law also gives greater protection to young people under 18 because they generally have less experience working with a substance as hazardous as lead. It is against the law for women capable of having children, and for young people under 18, to work in lead smelting and refining and in most jobs in the manufacture of lead-acid batteries. 4 of 6 pages

5 What should you do to protect your own health? Make sure you have all the information and training you need to work safely with lead, including what to do in an emergency, such as a sudden uncontrolled release of lead dust or fume. Use all the equipment provided by your employer and follow instructions for use. Make sure that equipment provided for your health and safety fits correctly and is in good condition. Follow good and well-tested work practices, and especially: keep your immediate work area as clean and tidy as possible; clear up and get rid of any lead waste at the end of each day or shift, as directed by your employer; do not take home any protective clothing or protective footwear for washing or cleaning. Wear any necessary protective clothing and respiratory protective equipment and return it at the end of the shift/day to the proper place provided by your employer. Report any damaged or defective equipment to your employer. Only eat and drink in designated areas that are free from lead contamination. Practise a high standard of personal hygiene, and especially: wash your hands and face and scrub your nails before eating, drinking or smoking; wash and/or shower and change if necessary before you go home. Keep your medical appointments with the doctor where you work. Make sure your workmates know and understand the dangers of exposure to lead. How is medical information about you protected? The Data Protection Act 1998 protects information held on medical surveillance records. Your employer or the doctor where you work must tell you if a record is being kept on you, and why. You have the right to see your record and to have any inaccurate information corrected. Your employer (or the doctor) should not reveal any information from your record except for the purposes for which it is kept. Where else can you get information? If you have any questions or worries about working with lead, ask your supervisor, safety officer or union representative. If you are suspended from work you may seek advice and help on your rights to suspension by contacting the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) helpline ( ) or at the Directgov website (www.direct.gov.uk). 5 of 6 pages

6 Further information For information about health and safety, or to report inconsistencies or inaccuracies in this guidance, visit For further information on working safely with lead, visit You can view HSE guidance online and order priced publications from the website. HSE priced publications are also available from bookshops. This leaflet contains notes on good practice which are not compulsory but which you may find helpful in considering what you need to do. This leaflet is available in priced packs from HSE Books, ISBN A web version can be found at: Crown copyright If you wish to reuse this information visit for details. First published 08/12. Published by the Health and Safety INDG305(rev2) 08/12 6 of 6 pages

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